Flaws in national early warning system must be fixed

If there are delays or inaccuracies in evacuation warnings issued due to North Korean ballistic missiles, trust in the government will be undermined. Alerts must be prompt and accurate.

North Korea repeatedly launched ballistic missiles between late September and early October, conducting seven tests. An intermediate-range missile flew over Japan, and new short-range missiles that fly on irregular trajectories fell into the Sea of Japan.

This was apparently intended to show that Pyongyang has the ability to attack in a variety of ways.

Japan’s missile defense is a two-tiered system, with Self-Defense Forces Aegis destroyers for intercepting missiles outside the atmosphere, and in the event of a failed interception, Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) surface-to-air guided missiles on the ground.

However, it is difficult to deal with missiles that fly on irregular trajectories. Even if the missiles do not hit Japan, there is a risk of falling debris and other objects if they fly over Japan. In order to minimize damage, it is essential to encourage residents to protect themselves.

The J-Alert early warning system that transmits emergency information nationwide is a means to that end, but problems with the system have emerged.

On Oct. 4, when a North Korean missile flew over Japan, the Japanese government sent information about the launch via the J-Alert system. However, information was mistakenly sent to islands in Tokyo that were not subject to the warning because data on where to send the alert had been left in the system from previous drills.

The system must be constantly checked to improve the accuracy of the alerts.

When the alert was issued in Aomori Prefecture, which was the warning area, the missile had already passed overhead. North Korean missiles can reach Japan in about 10 minutes after their launches. If the warning is delayed, residents will not be able to evacuate in time.

Japan relies on early warning satellites and radar belonging to the U.S. military for information about missile launches. It is important to deepen the Japan-U.S. alliance and establish a system for the prompt provision of information.

In preparing for contingencies, it is also important to secure evacuation facilities for residents and regularly conduct practical evacuation drills.

Under the Civil Protection Law that went into effect in 2004, prefectures and government ordinance-designated cities have selected about 53,000 sites as emergency temporary shelters, including sturdy buildings and underground facilities.

The Tokyo metropolitan government has so far designated about 3,800 sites that it claims can basically accommodate about 14 million residents.

However, many people may not know where they should go in the event of an emergency. It is hoped that local governments will actively provide information and thoroughly prepare for contingencies.

To deter missile attacks, there is an urgent need to possess counterattack capabilities. The government should make its intentions clear and steadily prepare equipment for this purpose.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 13, 2022)